THE RAW APPROACH
By Abd Al-Rahman
"We are aware that slavery still exists and millions of families continue to be destroyed. They are destroyed by people who are slaves to drug addiction, violence, crime, poverty and ignorance. These are all manifestations of mental slavery."
The above statement illustrates a point of view held by an ever-increasing number of people of Afrikan descent. ‘Manifestations of mental slavery’, far from being simply judgmental, implies that a person becomes the servant of a substance, mode of thought or way of living which is ultimately detrimental to self and community. This article emphasises the vision and work of RAW in tackling ‘manifestations of mental slavery’ and addresses drug-related issues which are in turn connected to a host of other issues such as widespread lack of self-knowledge amongst people of colour2. Although RAW works with the Afrikan, Afrikan Caribbean and Asian communities, the focus of this article will be on those of an Afrikan-Caribbean background. Also highlighted will be some of the problems associated with the development of services for this community and their solutions in visionary and practical terms.
When most professionals speak of setting up a service for one or more of the many communities within the broad heading of ethnic minorities, what type of service is being spoken of?3 What would be the vision of those involved I the development from conception? Would the aim simply be to ‘develop’ a remote corner of the existing mainstream organisation following the employment of a black worker and dilute any truly innovative approaches which she/he may come up with out of fear and ignorance? It has been said that if you give a man a fish, he can feed his family for a day, but if the same man has a fishing rod, a boat and other resources he will no longer need anything from you. The blakk community4 has been in the former condition for many centuries, and it has been a distinctly ‘eurocentric fish's Because of this we now have a situation in which there are many blakk workers who are entrenched in eurocentric models. Sometimes, out of fear of being labelled disruptive, the worker may tailor their approach in order for it to be palatable for the purchaser or manager. Often it is felt that there is a general unwillingness to back innovative approaches which would truly empower the community.
Within the drug field the focus as far as information to young people is concerned, has been on harm reduction which appears to be put forward as the last word in drugs education. Although harm reduction has its place it is not enough when dealing with any community, in particular the blakk communities6. RAW was founded as part of Network Drugs Advice Project’s (NDAP) ongoing drive to innovate and establish services to meet diverse beyond harm reduction to address the deeper aspects of drug use amongst Afrikan, Asian and Afrikan-Caribbean young people from an historical, political, psychc1logical, social, economic and spiritual standpoint.
From the outset there were misunderstandings. RAW was described as part of NDAP’s ongoing ethnocentric service development. This was taken to mean work with ‘ethnic minority communities’. What we meant by delivering an ethnocentric service was not a service for ‘ethnic minority groups’, but that we recognise the right and need for a group to hold its customs and beliefs above all others, as long as those customs and beliefs do not result in any harm befalling those who do not conform to those customs and beliefs. In delivering a service to a particular community, we strive to ensure we do not, through ignorance or arrogance, challenge their beliefs or impose our own beliefs on that group, unless the beliefs of that group would result in harm befalling those who do not conform to their mode of thought or behaviour.
"The African cosmos is like a spider web: its least element cannot be touched without making the whole vibrate. Everything is connected, interdependent".7 Our vision has been a bone of contention for many who fancy themselves as critics of innovation. This is due to a eurocentric mode of thought which cannot help but dissect all things into their components parts and swear blind that each part is a whole and separate from the other. As Llaila 0. Afrika pointed out: "Europeans culturally distorted all sciences by fragmentation, or the so-called analytical concept, which is based on separation. In other words, they separated the mind, body and the spirit. Consequently, Europeans treat the mind in psychiatric clinic, the spirit in a church, and the body in hospital; while Afrikan science includes the body, mind and spirit as a whole - holistically." Marimba Ani also highlights this eurocentric tendency: "Willie Abrahar talks about the European ‘tendency to rip things apart There are some things, he says, that cannot be ‘divided without destroying their integrity. It would seem that the human is one of these. The European scientific approach tears human beings to shreds in order to understand them." This has led to an over-concentration on division and difference and a neglect of similarity and interconnectedness. This was done with human classification Negro, Caucasian, etc amongst other things. The European, traditionally, is not concerned with interdependence. Therefore religion and politics, black and white, psychology and sociology, do not mix. This process can also E seen in the drug service assessment process whereby the client is dissected into little ‘manageable’ pieces.
To many this may have seen dangerous talk because the feel they are being personally attacked. This may also 1: seen as irrelevant to the issue of drugs. But when services for drug users are developed using this divisionary outlook the issue is pigeonholed and separated from other into connected areas. When a methodology, plan or vision devised in this state it will be deficient because the aim and objectives will be arrived at without a first understanding of the real problem. This is why we have the term, ‘hard to reach groups’ for example. This situation is similar to the goldfish which has sores due to the dirty water in the bowl. One person gives antibiotics to clear the sores but doesn’t see, or refuses to see the dirty water The other person deals with the sores but knows that it also necessary to clean the water. This illustrates two different solutions based upon two different views of t} problem.
Another area of contention is that culturally specific services are questioned in a way that women’s or your peoples’ services never are. Something I often hear from ‘professional careerists’ and those new to the field is "What if there was a white specific service. You would say this is racist. You wouldn’t like it would you?" Such questions illustrate an underlying, and at the same time overt ignorance of the issue in holistic terms and relates to a dislike of services such as RAW because of the black focus. Firstly, I assert that most services are white specific in all but name and eurocentric in their outlook. This reflective of the dominant culture/racial group in the U; Secondly, the person with the ‘gripe’ isolates RAW from the entire NDAP organisation and neglects the fact the NDAP strives to cater for diversity - young people (YAP), women (WAR), blakk communities (RAW), and so on. In other words, RAW exists within a much larger initiative which operates for all. Thirdly, the dynamic which exists world-wide between blakk and white, due to the facts of history and psychological, political and social oppression makes it necessary for blakk specific services to develop. RAW, first and foremost, stimulates thought within the blakk communities bringing forward questions for discussion, providing information and providing informal street counselling (reasoning). The RAW course is very much about healing and spiritual growth. It has provided many young blakk people with a study/support/self-knowledge group which has equipped them with the knowledge, skills and love of self necessary to become active and respected in the community. Natim Akbar points out that: "People like to take care of their own needs when they know who they are.
Depending upon someone to supply their basic needs is a by-product of the type of slavery condition which requires that people must be deprived of self-knowledge. Looking to others to educate your children, provide economic resources and to build your institutions only occurs for people without self-knowledge. People who know themselves want to fully care for self ."
For the blakk drug user or dealer, knowledge and love of self and community plus a firm understanding of interdependence and inter-connectedness is the firm basis upon which life transformation can take place - to regain and remember that which was forgotten, lost, stolen. Again Na’im Akbar points out: "Without knowledge of your group self, it becomes easy to engage in destructive behaviour against the group without being aware that it is an aspect of yourself that you are attacking." RAW outreach workers have gained access to the so-called ‘hard to reach’ because the approach used is a natural one, not contrived and manufactured. The issues of importance as far as young blakk people are concerned are rarely touched upon within the drugs field. Any community or group could be dubbed ‘hard to reach’ if those who are sent to do the work have no real understanding of the deeper issues, condition and subsequent remedy for the target group.
In closing I feel that it is important to stress that what is needed in terms of drugs education is the stimulation of thought and self analysis within minds which have been stunted by the stagnation of the educational system. Treatment needs to take into account the spiritual dimension to the human being. What is the use of acupuncture, aromatherapy and so on if the underpinning philosophies are discarded as ‘mumbo jumbo’? Also, what good would it be for someone to change their drug-taking behaviour but still not know who they are or their purpose in life? It is also important to discuss the notion of individualism8. It appears to me from studying the media and viewing the comments and actions of many young people that many adhere to this notion, yet in reality individualism is an illusion. Our actions whether positive or negative, as already pointed out, have rippling effects that impact on the whole community. These questions and issues, along with a host of others need to be addressed in order for our collective work to be effective.
Abd AI-Rahman is the RAW development worker. RAW can be contacted at NDAP 0171-474 2222
(1) Dr Asa Hilliard, quoted from Afrika on my Mind, A.T Browder.
(2) RAW as in undiluted, not processed, naked, in its natural state.
(3) Ethnic: "Pertaining to the Gentiles or the Heathen" (Chambers English Dictionary). "Characteristic of another culture, esp. a peasant culture; the ethnic look; ethnic food." (Collins English Dictionary).
(4) Blakk community is here defined as Afrikan and Afrikan-Caribbean communities. The old English ‘black’ and later ‘blak’ were exclusively used to refer to colour. Today there are over 60 examples of the word ‘black’ associated with negative. The term ‘blakk’ reclaims the original spiritual, cosmological and descriptive aspects of the word while shedding the negative and derogatory connotations linked to the current spelling. (See Viv Ahmun below, 1997).
(5) Euro: European in origin. Centric: having a specific centre. Eurocentric: a mode of thought which views the world and all that is in it by using European value systems as the criteria for judgement.
(6) Drugsedition, (Release policy paper, issue one), Viv Ahmun, 1994.
(7) Erny, Pierre, quoted from Yurugu - An Afriknn-Ccntered Critique of Europenn Culturnl Tllought nnd Beha7Xiour, Ani, Marimba, Africa World Press Inc.1994.
(8) Individualism: The doctrine that only individual things exist. As Margaret Thatcher said, "There is no such thing as society, just the individual and the market place."